Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler
Few pieces of writing advice get repeated as much as that old saw “show, don’t tell.” We’re here to show tell you that it’s not only not universally applicable, much of the time it’s wrong¹. Tell, don’t show, especially in the early pages of the book when so very, very much information needs to be delivered² quickly.
Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson
¹ Fun fact: this advice comes to us from silent film, when it made great artistic sense to put things on screen rather than on title cards.
² If you need new terminology, Dan uses “demonstration vs. description.”
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:36 — 13.7MB)
Rewrite your whole first scene as narration. See what parts work better and what doesn’t work. Keep the better bits, and work them into the next draft.
Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard
“Show, don’t tell,” they tell us. Except sometimes showing is not always the best thing to do. Or even the right thing to do. Sometimes we should be telling. In this episode we’ll tell you about telling. (We’d show you about telling, but we still don’t have a video feed.)
Credits: This episode was recorded by Rob Kimbro, and mastered by Alex Jackson
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 16:42 — 11.6MB)
Pick an important scene from your work. Cut it. Now have a character transition us across where that scene used to be.
We close June’s Master Class episodes in the usual manner, with a Q&A from our listeners and followers on Twitter.
- How do you “Show, don’t tell” a character’s thoughts?
- How do you describe a character’s appearance when they’re in their own POV?
- What’s the difference between scene and setting?
- How does your writing environment affect the scene you’re writing?
- Can an evocative fantasy setting be described effectively in a short story?
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:19 — 12.6MB)
Next month’s episodes focus on middles. Go to a friend and describe to that friend why the middle of your book is going to be awesome. Not the beginning, not the ending… the middle.
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind, narrated by Sean Barrett
Per the syllabus for the Season 10 Master Class, June is for painting a scene, and in this episode we’re going to talk about that paint.
We have all heard the “show, don’t tell” rule. In this episode we’ll discuss showing—how to do it well, how to do it consistently, and how to use it to accomplish things that telling just can’t get across.
Liner Notes: We make several references to Episode 3.14, in which Mary (in her first guest-hosting on the show) told us about the four rules of puppetry, as they apply to her writing. That was almost six years ago, so it’s probably been a while since you listened to it.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 20:10 — 13.9MB)
Sit in a room and describe the room. Do this for half an hour. Five or ten minutes in you’ll be ready to express hatred for the person assigning the exercise. Keep going for the full 30 minutes.
Now describe the same room in the specific style of a genre—epic fantasy, film noir, police procedural—using only 250 words.
Finally, describe this room from the POV of one of the characters in your current project.
How do you go about writing a character showing their emotions without them sounding whiny (or whatever the “too-much” version of the appropriate emotion might be)?
Adding to the difficulty of the exercise, how do you know where that “too much” line is for your book, your genre, and your audience?
We talk about how we’ve each faced this challenge, and how that’s been very different for each of us. Sometimes it comes down to “show, don’t tell,” and sometimes that rule flat out doesn’t work. And sometimes it doesn’t come down to a simple rule at all. (Okay, most of the time that’s what it comes down to.)
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 17:49 — 12.2MB)
Blocking! What is it, why is it important, and how can you do it well?
We begin with a definition (blocking is the part of the narrative that tells the reader where the characters are, where the scenery is, and how these things are interacting) and then talk about why it’s important, especially how it applies to “show, don’t tell,” and how the needs of the story will dictate what actually needs to be shown.
Finally, we discuss how to block scenes effectively, and how each of us do it.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:11 — 12.5MB)
Write a fight scene. Bonus points if it’s got four people in it. We don’t know what you’ll spend those points on.